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SEM analysis of an archaeological hair sample from East-Iceland and comparative samples from nine modern-day species of mammals from the region

Þórhallsdóttir, Rannveig, Walser, Joe W., Kristjánsdóttir, Steinunn, Anamthawat-Jónsson, Kesara
Journal of archaeological science: Reports 2019 v.24 pp. 24-29
archaeology, fur, hairs, humans, iron, microstructure, sampling, scanning electron microscopy, sheep, species identification, wool
This communication presents the results of a comparative study using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) for the identification of degraded, unidentified organic fibres adhered to an iron object that was found at a rescue excavation site in East-Iceland, where artefacts and human remains from ca. 950 CE were discovered. A reference set of SEM microscopic images of hair samples from nine modern-day mammal species living in the region was generated. By visual comparison of surface microstructure with SEM images of the reference species, the archaeological hair fibres were identified as sheep wool. Our SEM results further indicated that the archaeological wool fibres belonged to the Icelandic breed of sheep. The SEM images of common Icelandic mammals presented in this research are seen as an addition to the pre-existing collection of images useful for species identification of archaeological or otherwise degraded hair or fur samples.